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Coronavirus vaccine ‘long way off’ – health expert

The Government has earmarked £20 million to help produce a vaccine to stem the outbreak.

Market shoppers take precautions in Hong Kong

A vaccine for the new coronavirus is a “long way off” and will not be ready in time for the current outbreak, a health expert has said.

David Heymann, professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he was confident a vaccine would be developed “one day” but not in time to stem the current outbreak.

Infectious disease experts have been given £20 million of UK Government funding to embark to produce a coronavirus vaccine.

The investment will go to CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), a global body aiming to fast-track a vaccine within six to eight months.

Coronavirus: confirmed cases
(PA Graphics)

Prof Heymann told a briefing at Chatham House in London on Tuesday: “A vaccine is a long way off.

“There will not be a vaccine probably to deal with this outbreak, but there is work being done on coronavirus vaccines in general.

“I’m confident that there will one day be a coronavirus vaccine.”

Prof Heymann headed up the global response to Sars – severe acute respiratory syndrome – as executive director of communicable diseases at the World Health Organisation.

He said there were some signs the new coronavirus is not having the impact of Sars, an illness from the same virus family as the current outbreak which hit in 2002-03.

Shoppers in Hong Kong
Shoppers in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

Hospital workers do not appear to be getting infected by the new coronavirus, he said, adding “either there’s better prevention and control in hospital settings or it’s just a different virus”.

He continued: “Sars caused major outbreaks when it was exported from China, major hospital outbreaks – that hasn’t yet happened in this outbreak, this disease so that’s one point to compare.

“That’s not to say it won’t happen in the future but it hasn’t happened yet. The world is much more prepared to deal with these things now than it was then.”

He also said it now appears that the outbreak may have stemmed from multiple markets in China, rather than just the one in Wuhan.

He said the “logical scenario” or hypothesis is that a bat is a healthy carrier of the virus, which infects animals and then is passed on to humans who have contact with the infected animal.

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